Keith Butler knew exactly how to use his pass rushers against the Cleveland Browns to pressure Johnny Manziel in his first ever start at Heinz Field. The Browns tried often to give Manziel easy quick reads often to counter Pittsburgh's tendency to send heavy blitzes on key downs.
One thing that Pittsburgh's defensive front does well is engage and change the line of scrimmage, another thing would be getting after the quarterback.
This play was due to a few factors, crediting both the players and Keith Butler's scheming. Cameron Heyward engages the left guard and pulls him towards the center, while Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier engage the only other two blockers on the left side of the Browns' offense. This left Lawrence Timmons a perfect opportunity for a weak-side delayed blitz that got after Johnny Manziel and finished the play.
The players each did a great job collapsing the pocket and opening up space for Timmons to get after Manziel, but credit Butler for the play design. Alex Mack looks clueless as to who to block for just a few seconds, which prevents him from having any chance to pick up Timmons. If the coverage can takeaway the hot reads for the quarterback, these types of blitzes that create confusion for even a second can have a huge impact on drives with sacks.
This sack is a perfect example of how the Steelers' front seven players can win the one-on-one battles. This is not a pass rush that is exotic or designed to trick anybody, this is simply beating players man to man. Watch above as Jarvis Jones explodes through the Browns' left tackle, Joe Thomas, to force this sack. Thomas has long been a franchise player for Cleveland and has been voted to the Associate Press' All-Pro team for the past seven consecutive seasons. If Jones can do this consistently to strong pass protectors, he will be another problem for teams to consider when they plan to escape the Steelers' pass rush.
This is another example of the Steelers' players winning the man to man matchups. Ryan Shazier explodes into the hole and takes Duke Johnson Jr.'s lunch. This is what the Steelers look to get from their premier linebackers when they get matched up with running backs who try to protect their quarterback.
Pittsburgh is currently ranked at 4th most sacks in the NFL with 28 on the season. This has been a major resurgence after Steelers fans had to watch a struggling pass rush for four years. The Steelers have not finished a season in the top 10 teams of total sacks in the NFL since they recorded the most sacks during the 2010-2011 season. Needless to say, that was the last time Pittsburgh made the Super Bowl, let alone won a playoff game.
The Steelers' pass rush will be a key to containing elite offenses when they get into crucial matches late in the season and potentially the playoffs. The Steelers still have to see the highly ranked offense of the Cincinnati Bengals again and if they want to win it all this year they might see them a third time, as well as the New England Patriots. The pass rush seems to improve with each week as we see better technique and more teamwork as well as less sloppy mistakes.
Keep your eyes on the defensive front in two weeks when they go up against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks.